As a pharmacist one of the more common subjects I’m asked about are vitamin and supplementation products. The questions I often field are “should I use supplements or change my diet?” or “are all over the counter supplements safe?”. As always, the answer to most of these questions is “it depends”, but I will do my best to provide a brief answer for readers here.
Diet Change vs Supplements
The truth is that even with a balanced diet it can be a challenge to get all of the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals on a daily basis. Particularly as we age, our appetites tend to diminish somewhat, and we often eat a less varied diet. That is to say, we know what we like, and we stick to it. Additionally, many diet trends, or restrictive eating habits can make getting the necessary vitamins and minerals even more challenging.
In these cases, supplementation is a perfectly reasonable solution to help round out your diet. However, it would be remiss of me not to mention some food sources for commonly sold supplements:
- Salmon: B12, D3, Omega-3 fatty acids, and niacin
- Sweet Potatoes: Beta-carotene
- Berries: Vitamin C, folate, manganese, potassium, and fiber
- Dark leafy greens (Brussel sprouts, Kale, Broccoli): Vitamins A, B2, B6, C, E, K, calcium, folate, copper, fiber, magnesium, potassium and zinc. (hint: we should all eat these daily)
Are supplements safe?
The answer to this question is typically yes, however, there are some exceptions. According to the law all vitamins and supplements sold in the United States are required to be evaluated as safe, but are not evaluated to be effective.
We should always speak to our doctor or pharmacist before initiating a daily vitamin or supplement regimen. There are important considerations specific to each of us based on age, gender, and medication use which the healthcare professional will consider before recommending a product.
For example, the diabetes medication metformin is known to decrease levels of vitamin B12 with long term use. Your provider may recommend a product with B12 if you are looking to supplement while taking metformin. The commonly used St. John’s Wort, which has some evidence of reducing symptoms of depression, has harmful drug interactions with many commonly prescribed medications. It should be avoided before speaking with a healthcare professional.
The answer to whether or not we should be taking supplements is always based on the individual. It comes down to your health goals, your means, and your current state of health.
It is a great question to ask your healthcare provider, and can be a step towards improved health and wellbeing. I encourage everyone to start a conversation with their provider today.
Keywords: supplements, vitamins, wellness, health, prescription, medication, drug interaction